NOTING that he lost eight times, with six of those inside the distance, one might think Bob Foster was chinny and unworthy of inclusion in a “best-of” list.
Don’t be fooled. Tall and a devastating puncher, Foster dominated the light-heavyweight division from 1968 to 1974, making a record 14 defences. Most of his losses came up at heavyweight, in fights he took because he couldn’t get opponents in the lower division.
When Foster challenged Joe Frazier for the world heavyweight title in December 1970, he conceded 21lbs. Frazier knocked him out in two and four months later beat Muhammad Ali in the “Fight of the Century”.
In 1972 Foster fought Ali for the North American Boxing Federation title and made it into round eight before being stopped. He was lighter by 41 3/4lbs (a quarter-pound under three stone).
That’s like a featherweight taking on lightweights, or a welter taking on middleweights.
In his own division, he was just about unbeatable at his peak. At 6ft 3ins and with long arms, he generated whip-like punches. In 1972 Foster flattened Mike Quarry with a left hook in four rounds and said afterwards he was afraid he’d killed Quarry, so crushing was the finish.
BN’s Jack Hirsch said Foster boasted a great left jab, as fast as a piston and extremely hard.
Amazingly, when he’d taken up boxing during a five-year stint in the United States Air Force, Foster had lost his first six bouts. He must have learned quickly because he turned pro in 1961 and by the following year, in only his 10th paid contest, went in as a late sub with Doug Jones at Madison Square Garden. He was stopped in eight rounds and five months later Jones would lose a controversial decision to Cassius Clay (as he was then).
Other forays among the big boys brought defeats to Ernie Terrell (ko 7 in 1964) and Zora Folley (pts 10 in 1965), prompting Foster to take a year out. On his return he stuck to the light-heavies and reeled off eight wins to clinch a shot at world champion Dick Tiger. He blew the Nigerian away in four rounds at the Garden and would reign for six years, fitting in non-title fights along with defences and those ventures into the heaviest division.
Yet the purses were never huge, so much so that he took a job as sheriff in Albuquerque, the New Mexico city he called home. That made for colourful publicity pictures when he took his title on the road, defeating the likes of former Olympic champion Chris Finnegan in London and Pierre Fourie in South Africa.
But then this was a man who in his early pro days had worked in a Washington DC bomb factory and as a nightclub bouncer to feed his large family.
All good things must come to an end, however, and in 1974 a fading Foster was lucky to retain with a hometown draw against Jorge Ahumada of Argentina. He announced his retirement but came back the following year to have seven more fights, losing the last two when just a shell of what he had once been.